“We know that this can’t be solved overnight. But we only ask for consideration for the sick and the elderly.”
By LILY DELA CRUZ
MANILA – There are no more kubols or shanties inside the Maximum Security Compound of the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City, but many prisoners were left out with no roof over their heads after the clearing operations conducted since Oct. 9.
On Oct. 29, Makabayan bloc legislators were able to visit the Maximum Security Compound and had a brief consultation with political prisoners in Building-11 A and observed the conditions of inmates. They were also supposed to have a dialogue with Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) Chief Director General Gerald Bantag to clarify the concerns of the families of prisoners, but he was not available.
Although the BuCor denied that the reported deaths were caused by the demolition of shanties, the political prisoners said it has aggravated the conditions of inmates.
The BuCor has suspended visitation privileges since Oct. 9 when they demolished “illegal structures” such as shanties to put an end to illegal activities inside the national penitentiary. It is now lifted as announced by the BuCor public information office in its social media account.
Last week, relatives of prisoners in the NBP decried inhumane treatment of their loved ones which prompted the Makabayan bloc to look into their condition.
Conditions inside prison
BuCor Chief Bantag called the claims of relatives as “exaggerated.” They also denied that inmates do not receive medical treatment.
According to a report, data from the BuCor showed that there are 29 persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) who died due to various causes from Oct. 9 to 25. Ten died of pneumonia and tuberculosis and 14 died of noncommunicable diseases.
Political prisoners observed that the already dire conditions of inmates inside the maximum compound have worsened after the demolition.
During the visit, it is noticeable that many inmates were outside, some cooking their meals in the debris of the demolished shanties. Unlike the political prisoners who have separate quarters in Building 11-A and other buildings, many of the displaced inmates were left outside with their belongings. The construction of which was even funded by former Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo some years ago.
National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) Consultant Eduardo Sarmiento said many of the displaced were sick and elderly. They are now cramped in a space that they occupy inside the maximum compound while some have nowhere to stay.
Sarmiento said the BuCor administration has not transferred the affected inmates to any facility inside the maximum compound after the demolition. Those who are left without a place to stay were forced to sleep on the grounds. When it rains, they seek shelter inside the church or anywhere that has a roof that they are allowed to get in.
Sarmiento said this has also caused the already congested prison to be overcrowded. Sarmiento estimates that there are more than 300 inmates that were affected by the demolition.
Based on the Statistic Prison Congestion data of the BuCor as of Sept. 2019, the population in NBP is already at 27,821 but the is only 6,435.
There is also no electricity from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., making the conditions more unbearable. Many are getting sick with cough and colds. “Just imagine how hot it is now, it is worse during the summer,” Sarmiento told the Makabayan team.
Sarmiento said medicines for these common illnesses were also not allowed inside prison. There is water but they needed purifying tabs for drinking water. However, this tab was also not allowed inside.
He said that while there is a hospital in the NBP, the lines are long, making it difficult for the ill to access medication.
Sarmiento maintained that the regionalization of prisoners would also help in decongesting the NBP population. He said there are prisoners, as well as those political detainees, from the provinces who could be transferred to the penitentiaries in their respective regions. This would also be an advantage for the families who could not visit their loved ones in NBP due to transportation costs.
Sarmiento also called for the transfer of political prisoners in one building inside the maximum compound. There are at least 60 political prisoners in the NBP. There are 24 political prisoners at the Building 11-A while the rest are spread out in other buildings.
‘Address the issues and concerns’
Speaking to the media, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the dialogue with Bantag can address all the issues being raised by the families of the prisoners. He said it’s about time to answer the families’ concerns since it is close to a month that they were not able to visit their loved ones.
Zarate also called for the lifting of the suspension of visitation rights.
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdie Gaite said that Bantag should also address the lack of facilities to house the PDLs.
Zarate added that the NBP administration should also find ways to help those who lost their shanties due to the demolition, especially those who are poor.
ACT Teachers’ Party Rep. France Castro also expressed concern regarding the elderly and the sick who have no decent space in the compound. “They are humans too,” she said.
Zarate also said, “We know that the problem in NBP has long been existent. We know that this can’t be solved overnight. But we only ask for consideration for the sick and the elderly.”
Meanwhile, many prisoners who greeted Makabayan bloc have expressed gratitude for their visit. “Thank you for visiting us. You get to know of our conditions here,” a prisoner said as the legislators were about to leave the premises of the maximum compound.